‘Winter Soldier’ proves to be game-changing

Relatively spoiler free

Marvel is in the difficult position of keeping its individual character stories focused and forward-moving while simultaneously expanding and crossing over with other films in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (which includes the TV show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”).

With “Captain America 2,” not only did Marvel accomplish this with flying colors and, in the process, give us the best film in the franchise other than “Avengers,” but the newest film proved to be a game-changer as it thrusts several arcing stories forward. The latter is especially important for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which will set up “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron” quite nicely.

The first big, yet basic, concept to understand is how deceptively deep the Captain America character is (he is not a boring superhero), particularly in modern-day settings. The idea that Cap seems to be the one out of time with his antiquated notion of patriotism, honesty, and true freedom, devises a degree of great irony when he is all that’s left to fight the establishment. The arcing story about deterrents used to ensure security—which, as Cap points out, isn’t true freedom, but simply fear—has been a part of the franchise since the first “Iron Man” movie and really came into play in “The Avengers.”

Captain America isn’t some goody-two-shoes, too-trusting-in-everyone superhero. He holds everyone accountable. He questions Nick Fury, something no one in S.H.I.E.L.D. apparently does. Cap indirectly is a supporter of transparency—yes, there were hints of real-world political messages, but nothing too heavy, too forced or too distracting from the rest of the movie)—especially after he finds out soldiers under his command in the opening scenes of the movie have their own missions.

It’s great to see Cap continue to adapt to his new surroundings in the modern era. He quickly figures out the important things he missed (like Marvin Gaye, “Star Wars” and the Internet). He apparently isn’t a good kisser, though, as Black Widow finds out while they are on the run from some baddies. The humor throughout the film was pleasant, quick and didn't seemed forced at all, which is refreshing.

Cap and Black Widow’s interactions were a highlight of the film. Like the character she plays, Scarlett Johansson shows many different sides and can adapt to any given situation. She gets like any girl would when she’s trying to help fix up Captain America with dates. She’s sly and deceptive when she plays tricks on her adversaries.

Her best scene, however, was when she and Cap find refuge with Cap’s new friend Sam Wilson (who becomes Cap’s sidekick Falcon; more on that in a bit). Black Widow and Cap just learned a horrible truth that was right before their eyes and changes the direction of S.H.I.E.L.D. She has a gazed look upon her face, almost as if she felt her whole life has been a lie (the irony). As lines are blurred between the good side and bad side, Captain America starts to shine as he reminds her and, later on, others about what everyone is truly fighting for.

Another brilliant acting performance was by Robert Redford, who plays Alexander Pierce as the S.H.I.E.L.D. CEO of sorts. He shows he’s still got it as he doesn’t shy away during confrontational moments, and he has all the right smirks and responses as the movie dictates.

A flaw with “Cap 2,” as would be the case with any movie with this much going on, is that several of the other themes don’t get the attention they deserve (one in particular is pre-emptive strikes). Rest assured, there is no sense of incompletion here, but there are some moments that are making suggestions to the audience, but hey, maybe audiences prefer to read between the line more, anyway.

As covers are blown and secrets are unveiled, Cap eventually leads an insurrection, at the end of which will take the saga in new directions. Cap and Falcon—his rocket-propulsion flying wings make for great cinematic eye candy —must take down targets that potentially could wipe out millions of innocent people.

The action in the movie, highlighted by the final act, is supremely awesome. Other reasons people think Captain America is more boring than most superheroes is his lack of “cool” superpowers. The opening scene quickly dispenses of that notion; Cap puts on a show with his combat skills, which includes using his shield in uniquely awesome ways. He and the villain of the movie, the Winter Soldier, have a couple of well-shot, well-paced, heavy-hitting fight sequences that get the blood pumping.

After the movie, there are two stingers, one during the credits and one way at the end. At the risk of spoiling too much, the first one shows Loki’s scepter, suggesting that it is one of the Infinity Stones that are being sought by Thanos (Remember the evil-looking red guy at the end of “Avengers”?). With that, as well as the Aether from “Thor 2” and the Tesseract from the first Captain America movie, that is three of the presumed six Infinity Stones. It is highly likely that there will be more on this in the next Marvel movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which releases in August.

That will set up “Age of Ultron” as stakes continue to grow in this epic superhero saga.

Be sure to check back for a second review of "Captain America 2: The Winer Soldier" by Costello with all the spoilers included.